Sending your First 5.12: Movement Drills for Climbing
“ARE YOU OK?!” My belayer yelled up at me. He could hear me sobbing – not what you want to hear from your friend who is 90 feet up on the sharp end of the rope.
Fortunately, these were tears of joy. I had just pulled the last hard move of the route and was sobbing my way to the chains.
“One! TWO!” I yelled down as I clipped each anchor. I’d done it. I finally sent my first 5.12. I was delighted.
For me, my first 5.12 was a big deal – it is for a lot of people. As Maureen Beck says in her Reel Rock Debut “There’s a freaking book about it: How to Climb 5.12!”.
Climbing my first 5.12 is a memory I will always treasure. So if you haven’t climbed 5.12 yet, or maybe you haven’t sent the grade in a while, I want to help you get there. So here’s the first installment of my own analysis on how I sent my first 5.12. This first of many in this series is all about improving your movement skills.
Mindful Practice vs. Going through the Motions
In 2017 when I set out on my first training program EVER, I started with the Rock Prodigy Program. It recommends doing a lot of ARC training. And supposedly in the process of getting in tons of mileage on rock, your technique will improve and you will become a better climber.
This is basically true. After incorporating lots of ARC training I went from doing my first 5.10a outside to doing my first 5.11a outside in a matter of three months. Which is pretty considerable. I believe my increased endurance and improved economy of movement had a lot to do with that.
However, as I got better at climbing, I had to up my game a little more. I had certainly increased the difficulty of the routes that I train endurance on; however, instead of mindlessly cranking out route after route, I started to carefully consider my movement. No matter the grade, I began to take care to perfect the sequences. I started to re-do the same routes and boulders over and over until they feel “perfect.”
I used to think I was practicing my technique by climbing a shit ton, but I realized that it is essential to focus on different aspects of your climbing (e.g. putting weight on your feet, keeping your hips from sagging, moving statically instead of dynamically, etc.) instead of going through the motions. Do not assume you’re getting better sheerly by climbing more. You must learn to practice deliberately.
Resources for Movement Drills
So how do you practice climbing deliberately? If you had asked me that six months prior to sending my first 5.12 I probably would have said “um… make sure you don’t miss footholds and don’t cut feet if you don’t have to, I guess”. I had no clue and I hadn’t really thought about it either. This is where the movement drill resources come in.
If you want to practice deliberately, it’s a good idea to break down your climbing into little concepts that you perfect. These can come in the form of a movement drills.
Everyone climbs a little differently, so I don’t want to sit here and tell you exactly what drills to do. You know yourself and you know the projects that you want to do. It’s up to you to find the best drills to incorporate into your climbing practice.
Here are some ideas of where you can get quality movement drills to incorporate into your sessions:
- Power Company Climbing Movement Skills ebook. This is the one I used leading up to my first 5.12.
- John Kettle (podcast and movement book)
- This 10 minute video out of Catalyst Climbing in London
- The Rock Climber’s Training Manual has a small section on skills as well. I wouldn’t buy the whole book if all you’re after is some drills, but if you already have the book, it’s a good idea to take a peek at the movement skill section.
JUST FOR LAUGHS
Here are some other footwork related drills that seem a bit complex in the prop department. For entertainment value only:
- putting jingle bells bracelets on people’s ankles and telling them to climb with “quiet feet”. Which is like asking a dog with a collar on to run without making noise.
- Putting coins on holds and having people try to place their feet directly on the coins as they climb. Slightly less stupid, but who carries that much change?
I know, I know. My short list of resources probably amounted to about 50 different ways to practice your climbing movement. Don’t freak out. In the 5 weeks leading up to my first 5.12 redpoint, I only employed about 6 different movement drills from the Power Company Movement ebook, and consistently practiced them. Pick 6-8 drills that you will enjoy and can stick to, and then practice them often. Then after 4-8 weeks of practice, swap a few out for something new.
Practical Applications when Redpointing
At this point you might be thinking “Is this really going to apply when I’m thrashing at my limit outside? How does my perfect footwork on my 5.9 warmup help me when the going gets tough?”
The answer is that because you’ve practiced economical movement, you’re prepared to deploy it. While sussing out the beta of my first 5.12, Starry, at the New River Gorge I actively engaged TWO of the six movement drills that I had been doing from the Power Company ebook while working on the route. Here is an explanation of how I used the Heavy Feet Drill as well as the One Touch drill for my redpoint of Starry.
This the heavy feet drill. You may be familiar with this from a previous post.
On Starry there is a ledge that permits a full sit down rest in preparation for the crux sequence. The catch is that you have to traverse out pretty far to get to it. The debate is whether or not the rest is worth all that traversing. However, I noticed that the feet on the traverse out were very large and easy to work with. Thinking about my efficiency, I fully engaged the “heavy feet” drill during the traverse sequence. I did my best to put as much weight as possible on my feet to minimize exertion while traveling to and from the rest spot. As a result, the traverse didn’t really pump me out at all and I got a great rest on the ledge as a reward.
One Touch to Victory
Again, you might be familiar with this video from my last post, but one more time for the homies in the back because this drill is a GAME CHANGER:
The moves at the top of Starry were pretty tough, but I think this long crux sequence wouldn’t be any harder than V3 if took the 20 feet of crux and plopped it on the ground with a pad underneath it. However, when you do the crux, you’ve already been climbing steep stuff for 60-70 feet, so you’re a little gassed at that point.
With a high crux like this, efficiency is the name of the game. Every twitch of your hand counts and the pump clock is ticking.
So when I worked out the beta for the crux sequence, I had two obejctives:
- Figure out how to grab the holds correctly the first time and don’t waste energy adjusting or fidgeting.
- Eliminate sucky intermediates by doing one big move instead of multiple small ones.
The more I worked through the crux, the more I was able to accomplish the above objectives. By the time I went for the redpoint, the sequence was wired and I did a fairly minimal amount of readjusting through the crux. Either way, throughout the entire process, the efficiency that comes from “touching a hold once” was top of mind.
10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice?
In Malcolm Gladwell’s NY Times Best Seller, Outliers, he cites a study on musicians stating that with 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, you can become an expert at anything. While it has come to light that this rule isn’t as hard and fast as originally presented (and also does’t make total sense when discussing it through the lens of athleticism) the basis of the rule is that greatness comes with deliberate practice.
Fitting it All In
So how does one fit this deliberate practice into their climbing schedule? Here are my two favorite ways to do it.
- I combine movement drills with my endurance training.
- When I warm up for bouldering, I incorporate drills into my warm-up. I especially like to repeat sub-maximal problems when warming up for a tough bouldering session until I feel that I have completed them perfectly (a la the “Perfect Repeat” drill as seen in the Power Company Movement Skills ebook*).
Practicing these movement drills in your warm-ups is very beneficial in integrating improved movement patterns into your bag of climbing tricks:
“We recommend doing a lot of the drills that we’ve developed while warming up because I want you to do it while there are no other stressors involved: when you’re not focused on sending, when you’re not pumped, when you’re not physically fatigued or powered down. I want you to be able to focus on how you’re pressing with your feet or driving through your arms while that’s the only thing you have to think about.”Kris Hampton – Power Company Podcast Episode 124 – Meditation and Yoga for Climbers
The Month Before the Send
So how does this all tie into my first 5.12? Here are the specifics:
I started training movement skills for 2 hours total per week starting on April 22, 2019. I sent my first 5.12 at the New River Gorge on May 26, 2019 – about a month later.
I definitely noticed improvements in my movement patterns within a month of practicing them deliberately, which was cool to see. Do I think that movement drills alone helped me to send? No. But do I think that improving my economy of movement help me to a speedy 4-try send of my first 5.12? Absolutely.
The bottom line
If you want to break into 5.12, there are a lot of ways to get there, but the first and most important step to climbing 5.12 is improving your overall climbing ability – and that starts with deliberate skill practice.
What are your favorite movement drills? Have you ever used them before? Have specific questions about how I used them in my training? Drop me a comment or shoot me an email – I’d love to discuss!
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